When I lived in the Lakes I scarce noticed the mountains that stood two miles from my window. Lakes I’d seen, but never recently. You don’t notice what’s commonplace. How often do chums in Bournemouth go to the beach? It is a very good beach after all, better than Brighton by far though Brighton has the Lanes and good tapas whilst Bournemouth has only the Lower Pleasure Gardens.
That’s a park by the way.
Which is why you who live in London, which is why it’s been so long since you’ve been to the Natural History Museum. I know there are a hundred other museums, oddities and more select. Museums for murderous dolls, for historical ribbons, for decaying sharks, for parks, and for the kicking boots of eighteenth-century pickeroons. But the Natural History Museum is the first my granda took me too, and to where I took my own sprouts but recently.
It’s more interactive now. There are buttons to push (always the preserve previously of the Science Museum – which no longer has a periscope, nor the impossible safe) and presentations to see. But there’s still the life-size blue whale, the creepy crawlies and of course, the Dinosaurs. Back when I was a sprout the dinos were but bones, now they move and the Rex roars – to which my youngest at four, taking this to be a challenge, roared back. And where we came across a young lad bawling his eyes out, frightened and lost – and ignored. People walked by, people looked away. People chose not to see this poor child. My better half was having none of it. She bent down, she spoke to him, she found out his name and his nanny – oh yes – was nowhere to be seen. I was dispatched to find some figure of authority but in all the dino halls there was none. I went right back to the main entrance before returning with someone in a sta-pressed jacket and laminated badge.
It all ended well I’ll say now. Nanny was found, the Museum were alerted and thanked us roundly. And the crowds still ignored this young lad as they had done where he was so clearly frightened and alone. If there’s a moral to this then either you have drawn your own, or won’t be interested in mine.
But this made me think, of my first visit some thirty-five years before. My Granda Bill the Lambeth-lad-done-good knew everybody. Everybody that held doors or shouted from a stall, that walked a corridor or hefted meat, he knew. And so here too where soon he had vanished through one of many mysterious doors to have a smoke, and a cuppa, and left me to wander about by myself. I remember one peaked cap coming up to chat to me, I was ‘Bill’s’ y’see but otherwise I wandered and at about the same age as the lad who had lost his Nanny. At times my Granda would reappear, with a packet of sandwiches, with a cup of tea for me in a proper mug, or most oddly a small rock, and a wink, which meant nothing to me at the time (and I’ve no idea what became of it) but in hindsight was probably a piece of something frightfully important someone had fetched from a drawer.
No cultists caught me up and no devilish villainy was performed in my presence. Certainly no dinosaurs went missing, which was a shame as I would probably have enjoyed that. But then had I alone stumbled upon wickedness or the rough henchmen of a foreign power it was probably odds-on that even a revived Fu Manchu would have suddenly dropped all the cruel laughter to say ‘Oh ‘ello, ain’t you Bill’s boy?’
And I would have been too.